The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 51 - October 3, 2012

reel time

Sarasota Bay Watch cleans seabird rookeries

On Sept. 29, members of Sarasota Bay Watch teamed with Save Our Seabirds, the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, Sarasota Audubon, Sarasota High School’s the Carefree Learner and Audubon Coastal Islands Sanctuaries to conduct a monofilament clean up of bird rookeries in Sarasota Bay. The event was organized to remove fishing line from mangroves during the season when birds are not nesting. The event was a great success with beautiful weather conditions. During the morning, event participants collected yards of line from Roberts Bay to Manatee County.

The day’s activities began at Sarasota Sailing Squadron on City Island, where Lee Fox instructed members of the group on the proper method of disentangling a seabird once they get caught in fishing line. She also showed participants the gruesome results of birds that are mutilated or killed by fishing line. It was a stark reminder of the responsibility we have as anglers to protect our feathered friends.

I had the pleasure of spending the morning with Sarasota Herald reporter Shannon McFarland, Christine Killeen and Peg Watkins documenting the clean-up in addition to removing line from mangroves near the City Island boat ramp. We started out at the Robert’s Bay Rookery where seniors from Sarasota High School participated with Judd McKean aboard the Carefree Learner. The group got off to a slow start until they got the hang of spotting the gossamer threads that were often woven deep in the mangroves where nesting birds will be rearing their young.

Anglers that fish the coastal waters of Florida invariably come into contact with the seabirds, contact that can be deadly to seabirds. Most anglers are careful to avoid birds and know what to do when they get hooked, but occasionally birds get into trouble when they either come into contact with discarded fishing line in mangroves, or they take line to their roosts after becoming hooked by fishermen that don’t know how to properly release them.

If you hook a bird while fishing make sure that you fight it to the boat with a properly set drag to prevent it from breaking free while trailing line. This is a death sentence for the bird when it returns to its roost at night. If you bring the bird to the boat as you would with a prized fish, it can be held by the side of the head while the hook is removed.

Care should be taken with all birds, especially ones that have sharp beaks. For all your good intentions the bird will be defensive and strike out if it has a chance. Carefully placing a towel over the bird’s head will protect you and calm the bird. Remember to handle birds carefully as they have very light, hollow bones. Cautiously unwind the line from wings and feet and then check the bird carefully before releasing it. If you see a hooked or tangled bird in an active rookery, don’t approach it as its young may be startled and fall from the nest.

The incidence of anglers hooking birds can be reduced by following a few simple rules. First never feed birds. This bad habit will train birds to look for a handout and leads to trouble for the birds and anglers. Secondly, while you’re fishing be aware of birds that might be eyeing your bait. It’s easy to pull the bait out of harm’s way at the last second before a gull or tern dives on it.

Taking care of the environment that feeds our passion is every angler’s responsibility. Follow these simple guidelines – be aware of their presence, take care in handling them when you do come into contact and never feed birds. Make sure you pay attention and when you see a bird in trouble spread the word to other fishermen. If you see a bird in distress call Save Our Seabirds at 941-388-3010 or Audubon Coastal Island Sanctuaries at 813-623-6826. You can find out about future events or join Sarasota Bay Watch by going to

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